Every covenant that is a subset of the covenant of grace unfolds for us key aspects of God’s plan of salvation, which redeems us not through our merit but through God’s free gift. With Noah we see that the world into which the Lord finally sent the Savior continues on only by gracious preservation. It is only by grace that the natural order continues, for “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21) and God must be patient, delaying His final judgment, if the world is to continue and His elect are to be saved. With Moses we are given the law to show us our failure and drive us to God’s grace, and we see that obedience follows redemption as the means by which we show gratitude to the Lord, not as the means to merit redemption. With David we see that salvation ultimately restores God’s people to their rule over the earth and that redemption is purchased by the King of kings who bears their deserved curse.
With Abraham we get the clearest revelation of the means through which we appropriate the blessings of grace. Today’s passage records the formal ratification of God’s covenant with Abraham. The patriarch, having heard that the Lord will give him and Sarah a son even though their advanced age should make it impossible, believes God’s promise. And we read that because Abraham believed the Lord, God counted him righteous (Gen. 15:1–6). The Apostle Paul uses this episode to show us that our justification—our being declared righteous before God and heirs of eternal life—comes through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, which we receive only by faith (Rom. 4). Our faith is not meritorious; it merely receives the gracious provision of Christ’s perfect righteousness, which is imputed or placed on our record when we trust in Jesus alone for salvation. John Calvin writes, “Faith does not justify us for any other reason, than that it reconciles us unto God; and that it does so, not by its own merit; but because we receive the grace offered to us in the promises, and have no doubt of eternal life, being fully persuaded that we are loved by God as sons.”
Besides revealing the faith-righteousness scheme of justification, the covenant with Abraham shows that God’s promises to His people cannot fail. By walking through the pieces of animals as “a smoking pot and a flaming torch,” the Lord tells us that if the covenant is broken, He will be made like the dead animals (Gen. 15:7–20). But since God cannot change, He will never be subject to such a fate. And if He will never be subject to destruction, the promise must be fulfilled.
What is to be our response to the Abrahamic covenant? It is to forsake any claim to merit that we might think we have and to rest on Christ alone for salvation. We must continually turn to Jesus in faith, repenting of our sin and admitting that we have no merit of our own. Let us trust in Christ this day and exhort others to do so as well.